Page 7 - January 2021
P. 7



                    OCTOGENARIAN ANTICS

             At  Cornell,  armed  with  a  Woodrow  Wilson  Fellowship  for  me  and  a  promise  of
             employment for my wife, Adelle, we made the decision to move West. I was to study at

             the University of California at Berkeley and Adelle was to work in a well-paid position
             in San Francisco in the Federal Reserve Bank of California.

             It is difficult to tell how magical the notion of "The West" was for an East Coast boy
             and girl--especially a boy who had played Cowboys and Indians as a child. If the East
             was  Europe  and  European-influenced  culture,  the  West  was  wildness,  openness,
             space, and a proximity to the Far East. It was in Berkeley, and later Oakland, California,
             that  I  took  on  the  trappings  of  a  Westerner.  My  poetry  and  my  life  thrived  in  these
             spaces where I turned my back on the well-known publishers and literary culture of the
             East  Coast  and  pursued  a  different  kind  of  life.  The  poet  Michael  McClure,  born  in
             Kansas, instructed me: It was Kenneth Rexroth who taught us all how to be poets of
             the West, taught us to remain Westerners in many of our cultural trappings--McClure
             used to recite Chaucer at readings--but also to look to Eastern culture, to the Japanese

             and Chinese; taught us of the spontaneity of haiku, for instance. We had our masters--
             Robert  Duncan,  Phil  Whalen,  Diane  di  Prima,  Ishmael  Reed,  many  others--and  we
             didn't care very much about what was said in The New Yorker. Berkeley had been a
             sleepy,  tennis-oriented  town  until  the  sixties  arrived,  at  which  point  it  transformed
             itself  into  a  hotbed  of  contrarian  sentiment,  political  awareness,  and  imaginative
             sweep.  That  is  perhaps  what  happened  to  me  as  well.  I  went  to  the  university  and
             learned  a  few  things,  but  my  true  university  was  the  town,  with  its  nearness  to
             sophisticated San Francisco. Though I was an adult when I reached here, I became a
             child of the West. Wildness, openness, space, and a proximity to the Far East. Heaven!
             Oz! I wrote to the wonderful Southern-California poet, Jerome Rothenberg, "Poetry is a
             darkness, Jerry, / it is the site of no gnosis / until it is finished with us."

                                                                                  jack foley

                                                             Consulting Editor

        litterateur                                                                      january 2021
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